Adderall Abuse on the Rise on College Campuses

By John Lavitt 03/02/16

The misuse of ADHD drugs by young adults has fueled a rise in emergency room visits.

Adderall Abuse on the Rise on College Campuses
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Although Adderall and other stimulants designed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been proven effective when used as prescribed, the misuse of these prescription drugs by young adults continues to rise. So much so that the misuse of these ADHD drugs has sent a significant number of young adults to the ER in the past few years.

The diversion and illegal sales of Adderall has continued to be popular on college campuses. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers revealed that non-medical use of Adderall rose by 67% from 2005 to 2011 among people ages 18 to 25.

Adderall-related emergency department visits increased by a whopping 156% during that time period. High school and college students are not using Adderall, a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, to get high and party. Instead, the drug has become the most popular study aid on campus.

"Adderall has gotten a reputation ... as a cognitive enhancer [that] may have contributed to this increased trend of misuse," said study author Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, a physician and researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

The study shows that around 7.5% of high school seniors have reported using some form of prescription amphetamine in 2015. As the pressure to succeed has intensified, Adderall is seen by many young people as an essential addition to the formula for success. And its extended-release formulation has made it more popular than Ritalin, which the study linked to noticeably fewer ER visits.

According to the study, nearly 70% of those who used Adderall non-medically reported not having a prescription—instead they get it from friends or family. This suggests that the overprescribing of the drug is not the primary cause of the widespread misuse of these stimulants.

Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), noted that the study affirms that the negative consequences of using these drugs are largely driven by their non-medical use. Dr. Volkow believes education is key to improving the problem, as many regard these medications as safe and aren't aware of the drug's negative side effects.

About one in three college students report using Adderall or Ritalin in a non-medical way, and there is some evidence that students will continue on this track. While the number of high school students abusing Adderall has been somewhat stable over the last five years, the number of college students continues to climb—7.5% of high school seniors that reported using some form of prescription amphetamine last year is “still quite high,” said Dr. Volkow. With nearly 15 million high school students presently enrolled in the United States, 7.5% of high school seniors comes out to roughly 300,000 adolescents that are misusing Adderall.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jumped into the trenches of this issue, although their efforts have proven ineffective. They issued a warning that the misuse of Adderall and Dexedrine "may cause sudden death and serious cardiovascular events." Dr. Mojtabai noted that even proper use can cause anxiety, agitation and insomnia. Moreover, prescription stimulants are habit-forming and can lead to addictive episodes. Despite these dangers, Adderall misuse by young people in the U.S. continues to net poor results. 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.